After 3 months of travel, I was excited to be going home. I’d had a fantastic time seeing as much of Europe as I could, but I was also tired and I missed my family. I was gearing up to move to Madrid for the next year for my stint as a North American Language and Culture Assistant as part of the Cultural Ambassador program. Traveling through Europe helped prepare me for a longer commitment living overseas. Here’s the top 5 main things I learned:
- The world isn’t as scary as some people think.
I had a couple uncomfortable moments in Milan where I felt a little unsafe, but overall, I had a great time where people treated me incredibly well. I encountered nice, helpful people, even in countries where I didn’t expect it because I’d always been told people were ‘less friendly’ there.
- There will be some things you don’t tell your parents until you return (or never).
My time in Milan definitely made my Dad nervous. So even though it was at the end of my trip, it took awhile after I returned to tell my family about that one night I slept on the street in Barcelona. Since I knew I had a job and would be returning to Madrid, I’d decided to end my backpacking trip there and buy a round trip ticket from Madrid to San Francisco. I left Nice and embarked on a 48 hour journey through Barcelona to Madrid. After a slight reservation fiasco in Nice I couldn’t get on the anticipated train in Barcelona and had to wait until the next morning. I decided to spend the night in the train station. That would’ve been a great idea, except the train station closes at midnight and all of the backpackers got thrown out on the street…lol. There were quite a few other travelers, all backpackers, that were attempting the same thing (who wants to pay for a room for just 4 hours of sleep?). We all went out to square and slept on the street. Fortunately, there were about 30 of us, so I felt completely safe.
- Traveling solo for an extended period can be one of the most liberating experiences of your life.
It will be difficult, you will have challenges, and the hardest part is that there’s no one to lean on but yourself. Miss your train? You have to figure out when the next one is. Can’t find your hostel? You have to look at your map for the 20th time or find someone on the street to help you. Can’t communicate with the language barrier? You have to pantomime or use a travel dictionary to get your way through the conversation. It isn’t easy, but there’s no other option. You either figure it out or you don’t. While this can be frustrating at times, it also can be extremely empowering.
- Traveling will teach you a lot about yourself.
I’ll never forget sitting on a train in Switzerland, looking out the window and realizing, “I made this happen.” People often say that you can do anything you set your mind to, but this was the first time that I truly believed it. I had wanted to travel through Europe, I worked hard, saved money, and made that happen for myself. I realized that I’m a strong, independent woman; that I have good problem solving skills, that I’m comfortable trying new things and that I refuse to let fear hold me back in life.
- It will also teach you a lot about the world and your own country.
Seeing other countries, experiencing their cultures and their opinions will help you re-evaluate your own. I was surprised at how much I learned about LGBT rights, healthcare, politics, woman’s rights, education and the list goes on and on. Some of my experiences solidified what I already felt and others had me questioning aspects of our American system.
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned through travel?